"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Lilias Trotter is a woman whose life exemplified this verse. Born in Victorian England, in the year 1853 in London, she joined a family of privilege, being the first child born from the second marriage of her father, Alexander Trotter, who worked as a stockbroker. Her mother, Isabella, married the widow Alexander and became Mother to 6 children from his first marriage. From all accounts, Lilias had a happy childhood. Her parents were very socially conscious and a Church of England family. When she was 12, her father died and it appears that his passing played a profound impact on her budding faith. She continued to be educated in several languages and early on showed a remarkable talent in painting. When she was 23 years of age, she had the chance for her art to be critiqued by John Ruskin, who was the famed art critic and social philosopher of the day. He told her that through her talent, he could make her “immortal.” In response to Ruskin’s offer, she decided that she couldn’t fully pursue her art career and ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’
Years later, this is what he said of Lilias Trotter:
“For a long time I used to say, in all my elementary books, that except in a graceful and minor way, women could not draw or paint. I’m beginning lately to bow myself to the much more delightful conviction that no one else can” (Rockness 13).
Ultimately, she and two other women went to the French colonized Algeria and built a gospel sharing ministry in that part of the Muslim world for 40 years. Some of her art and her testimony of faith are available today because she journaled almost daily for 40 years. Because her health was so poor when she and her 2 friends left for Algeria, she wasn’t sent through an official missions board, but they all self funded their ministry efforts for their time there. I, among many others, have been fascinated by this woman’s life and testimony. She turned away from certain fame through life as an artist and counted her family wealth as nothing in order to pursue Christ’s call for her life. I question myself, “Could I do the same?”
If you are interested in knowing more about Lilias Trotter and her life ministry, I recommend the biography authored by Miriam Huffman Rockness, A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, as well as, Many Beautiful Things, an hour long documentary narrated by Downton Abbey star, Michelle Dockery.